Liberty is an increasingly fragile ideal. In Russia and Eastern Europe, and in Africa, the forces of oppression are gaining ground. The Ugandan president today signed new anti gay laws despite strong international pressure calling for him to reject the bill. In Russia, their president, Vladimir Putin, relishes in his new role as the messiah for so called “traditional family values.” This article in the spectator explains clearly the new role that president Putin is creating for himself on the world stage.
Even here in the UK there remains a solid constituency of support, of admiration even, for Putin’s anti gay rhetoric and for the actions being taken in Africa against the homosexual community. Gay rights have become the international litmus paper of a nations liberalism or, alternatively, its adherence to “so called” traditional, conservative values.
The roots of anti gay hatred lie, just as it once did (and still does), against the Jews, within the dogma, tradition and writings of Christianity and Islam. The idea that gay sex is abnormal evolves from the “interpretation” of some passages in books that claim to be the word of God. The key word is “interpretation.” In the west most Christians now choose to interpret anti semetic and anti gay wording in the Bible in a non literal way or even to reject what is written as being what they are, words written at a certain time and place for a particular readership, and not as being relevant to a modern, tolerant and inclusive world. Being raised a devout Roman Catholic, (although now lapsed and a Pagan,) I understand how religion can be and was used and still is used to instil tribalism and mistrust and even hatred. Religion has many positive attributes but ultimately, orthodox monotheism especially, is about power. Belief is a powerful tool in the wrong hands and history has taught us how religion has been used to stir hatred and to justify persecution. We must remember that it was the Catholic church which initiated the yellow star as a badge to identify and to alienate the Jew, a heritage of exclusion and mistrust that Hitler used to instigate the most atrocious act of genocide. In this same tradition both Putin and his African counterparts are now justifying their attacks upon their homosexual communities by cosying up to, in Russia, the powerful orthodox church, and in Africa the wealthy USA backed evangelical churches.
As an outsider looking in I can clearly see that the targeting of the homosexual communities in both Russia and in Africa is a cynical abuse of power by those governments anxious to divert domestic and international attention from their own corruption. They do this firstly by engaging populist prejudice, secondly by targeting a defenceless minority and thirdly by selecting a minority identified as being protected in the west. By associating homosexuality as a western perversion the Russian and African governments incite both populist prejudice and xenophobia. For Russians the west is the old enemy and for Africans the west is the old colonial power. Both the Russian and African governments know that the west is impotent. Incredibly short sighted decisions by our own UK government and other western governments has left Russia holding in the short term the key to our oil and gas supplies while in Africa the west knows that if corrupt African governments feel threatened they will find solace in the welcoming arms of Russia, (or China). As a consequence the gay communities of Russia and Africa will I fear to be abandoned as the power struggle between west and East once more grows, threatening world stability. History repeats itself and I fear the consequences.
In the meantime I admit to breathing a huge sign of relief that I was born in the United Kingdom, in the west, and not in those areas of the world where my sexual orientation could mean my death or imprisonment or at best a miserable and secret life. A coldness shudders down my spine knowing that for thousands of men and women living in fear will be there lot and for many torture and even death. President Putin and his African counterparts are a sobering reminder that while it seems that the world has progressed in much of the world it has also stepped backwards, and it seems to be doing so at an increasingly fast rate as governments hide their wrongdoing behind defenceless scapegoats.